Again, we’ve almost been here before.
While my last answer was the somewhat ridiculous ‘empathy’, I think I may have had some truth speaking going on. It’s still a bit of a cop out, so I’m at the very least going to have to come up with a different cop out now.
I think the thing that humans do to each other all the time is ignore each other, on one level or another. People don’t recognise that the person next door, or the person they’re facing, is just as human as they are. The weirdness that is selfhood doesn’t seem to recognise its ubiquity. An other is alien to us, incomprehensible, despite the quite obvious extrapolation that I am like you are like them.
This little spark of cognitive dissonance, this solid belief in the uniqueness of the commonplace, allows an array of cruelty, violence, inconsideration and disrespect to take place. Without that first little ignorance, capitalised on by the PR firms of capital to enable mass worldwide exploitation, a lot of suffereing wouldn’t exist.
The first step to the worst thing is right there, relatively minor, and not yet terrible, but it’s sitting there, ready to grow into the worst of violences: psychological, cultural, physical or whatever. The spectrum of suffering that can come from that initial failure to empathise and understand is immense.
It’s not the same thing as murder, or slavery, or rape, or silencing, or oppression or kidnapping or torture. But it is the first step on the way to all of them. Without it, I believe, none of these would be possible.
So it’s the worst starting point, even if it isn’t the worst end.
I’m not going to sit here and try to quantify pain and cruelty. These are things that can not be extrapolated into accurate and comprehensible terms. But there’s a sin of failing to extrapolate and comprehend each other. That’s the decision you make first.
It should be as difficult to hurt another as it is to hurt yourself.
In truth, it’s terrible, but it’s easy.
It’s easy to just notice your own frustration and not reach out and notice someone else’s. It’s easy to retreat into the self and not bother worrying about the people you lash out at.
You default point of view is fairly fixed. It’s lodged inside your head. You can’t really get out of it.
Except that you have a mind. Your self belongs in a swirl of neurons complicated enough to guess at the world around, to reach out and contact the notion of being that is another person. Your brain is this huge and ridiculous computer that recognises patterns enough to spot another person, recognise a similarity between yourself and them enough to understand, to care, and to love.
Being human includes a wonderful happenstance. You are capable of considering your actions.
You can decide the next thing that you do (and if you can’t, it doesn’t matter, so act like you can).
Illustration by Henry